Internships are an excellent way for inexperienced and new arrivals in an industry to gain valuable experience. There are two major types of internships: paid and unpaid. It is significantly more common for an internship to be paid, but sometimes it is simply more fitting for the experience to be unpaid. There are far more restrictions on what the internship can entail if the intern is not receiving compensation, so you it may actually be more beneficial for you to offer paid internships instead. Regardless, you should be familiar with the unpaid internship rules before you begin your internship program.
6 Rules to Remember
There are six major rules that all unpaid internships must follow. Remember that paid interns are treated as temporary employees, and the rules and regulations governing them are nearly identical to regular employees. This means the entire process is simpler to straighten out. On the other hand, for unpaid interns you must do the following:
- Treat the internship as an educational experience. There are no hard restrictions for what this entails, so you should err on the side of caution. The internship should resemble the training program you have for new employees, and they should be given the opportunity to learn skills that will apply to the industry as a whole, instead of simply the skills necessary for your company.
- Benefit the intern more than the company. For an internship to be unpaid, the intern must be directly benefiting from the experience. They must be gaining skills, knowledge, and experience that will help them find work and succeed in your industry in the future.
- Not replace a regular employee with an intern. Taking on an unpaid intern must not negatively impact the labor force that you typically have. If there is anything that indicates that the intern is filling the role a regular employee normally would, the internship may be rejected. You must be careful if you think you may be letting employees go around the same time you take on an unpaid intern.
- Not directly benefit from the internship. In fact, it is expected that your daily operation may be occasionally impeded by the internship. If the intern is simply performing regular duties of an employee, it will be viewed negatively. Instead, the intern should be shadowing an employee, which will limit the work they will be able to do. Additional resources and time should be spent to provide a learning experience for the intern.
- Not guarantee a fixed position for the intern after the internship. Make sure the term of the internship is clearly established and understood by both the company and the intern. After this time, it should be clear that the relationship will end. It is acceptable to take them on as a regular employee, but you cannot indicate your intention to do so in any way. Even something as simple as referring to the internship as a “trial period” may invalidate the internship.
- Make it perfectly clear to all parties that the internship is unpaid. From the very beginning, there must be no question whether the intern will be paid for their time. The intern must agree to being unpaid and not to later try to claim they were neglected what they were due. This is a major reason why it is important that the intern is not doing regular work. If they are expecting a learning experience and is asked to do work, they may think it is unfair not to be paid.
Be Familiar With the Laws
Before beginning an internship, you should familiarize yourself with the Fair Labor Standards Act. It is your responsibility to know what is expected of your internship program. If you do not qualify for an unpaid internship, learn what practices are unique to a paid internship.
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